Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dark Life

So, this was just to cool to not share! Dark matter could make planets habitable. I saw the article from the NewScientist.com detailing the theoretical idea of two astrophysicists from Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. The actual science paper can be found here, on astro-ph.

The basic idea is that dark matter could be collected inside of a free-floating planet, a planet that has lost the star which warms it. This dark matter would generate enough heat to maintain liquid water on the surfaces.


I wrote an article on dark matter a couple of weeks ago on what it is and some of it's properties. But one of the interesting things about dark matter particles is that they annihilate on contact with each other, spraying out energetic particles. So when they travel through something as dense as a planet, they eventually get trapped from losing so much energy and settle into the core. As more dark matter particles settle in, the eventually collide and annihilate.

This piece of physics is even suspected to happen inside our own Earth, but at most generating a couple megawatts (the Sun gives us 100 billion megawatts as contrast). There is very little dark matter in the Solar System because we orbit in a region of the galaxy with little dark matter. Some dark matter exists closer to center of the Milky Way because of gravitational attraction, but the majority resides in a massive halo around the galaxy that helps give it it's shape.

Dark Matter Halo Around A Galaxy.
But a planet that has been flung out of a stellar system by some means, if it were to fly through a high density, slow moving dark matter cloud in deep space, it would plausible to capture enough dark matter to maintain liquid water. Or at least that is what the paper argues. This water could potentially last a trillion years.

The density of dark matter particles would have to be immense to provide what the paper suggests, the best places are within 30 light years of the galaxies core. A region that is suggested to have poor planet formation, but better then in the halo where there are no stars to speak of. But even if it did happen, detecting them would be neigh impossible. The core of the galaxy is about 26,000 light years from us, and detecting a planet there isn't possible with any telescopes. The next generation of telescopes are going to be pushing it just to try to discover planets around stars 100 light years away.

So, there is a small chance for this kind of planet to exist and have life on it. But there is an even smaller chance of ever finding it. It would make for a great science fiction story setting though. And in my mind right now, I am envisioning the search for this planet kind of like trying to find a unicorn. Not just any unicorn either, but that ultra-rare, one-of-a-kind black unicorn (since this involves dark matter).
Thanks Google Image Search.
EDIT: GRRR, it appears my poll stats have been lost? I dunno, I didn't touch it at all, but I was checking to see where the standings were and all the votes were gone. Thanks Blogger... Ugh, well, there's still 3 days, so keep voting. EDIT EDIT: Looks like they have been recovered, yay!


24 comments:

mac-and-me said...

that unicorn is indeed hardcore

Teutorix said...

Interesting stuff.
Also if you lose your poll results again, know that I voted for Star Life Cycle.

hwidman said...

mmmmmm, interesting

SOMS said...

Voted for Star Life Cycle! Maybe u can bring some light on that matter, will follow.

Silent Crawler said...

Dark matter is still just a theory, but a very promising one. Containing dark matter inside a very dense matter can produce so much energy, that the matter could implode and became a star itself in spite of what it was before. It's brilliant. I'd like to be one of the first, who actually research it.

Astronomy Pirate said...

Silent Crawler. You couldn't be more wrong by saying 'still just a theory'. You mistake the common form of theory for scientific theory, like the Theory of Evolution of Theory of Gravity. Dark matter exists, we know it exists, we know some of the particles, such as neutrinos (as I discussed in my dark matter post). And your entire understanding of physics in that comment is wrong, you would still need the mass of a star to become a star. A planet couldn't be turned into a star, and implosion of such as you described would create a small black hole.

Zombie said...

Dark Unicorn FTW!!

Necroticism said...

Man, dark matter & energy are becoming so exciting! I literally cannot wait for the LHC results (at full capacity).

It seems that the formation of planets is very odd.

Lost.in.Idaho said...

Like you said, this is highly unlikely to be a mainstream way of habitating a planet. Is it fascinating? Absolutely. But a planet without a star is still not a planet. Plantlife couldn't grow because of a lack of sunlight. No photosynthesis. Therefore, how is oxygen produced? An ozone created? Yes, the planet could have water, and be the correct temperature for life, but a lot of key elements would still be missing.

Necroticism said...

Hey mate, check this out www.solarsystemscope.com/ I think it's more for your blog than for mine :P

rinns said...

That's so awesome. I feel privileged to live in this day and age of discovery. It's all so exciting :D


~Awesome horse.

las3R said...

Ahaha just think about what could be achievable in the near future o;

Venus said...

interesting theory.
nice black unicorn.

Randall said...

That's amazing. I just wish I knew what the 'dark matter' was...

Green Bus said...

I think it's an interesting connection they made there, but the possibility seems too remote from our reality and current technology.

Let's keep the idea for the next generations.

Erika said...

I wish I could remember everything that I read on your blog but it seems that half an hour after I read anything on here, I forget too much of it to build a conversation on it with anyone. Which sucks cus your blog is super interesting and would make for great conversation topics. Just way beyond my level XD

Mike said...

Read the same article in New Scientist - Shame nothing will be achieved in that field in my lifetime. Very exciting prospect.

Electric Addict said...

what a crazy concept. really interesting

Jay.CA said...

indoor heating eh? terra-forming, here we come!

KUSHtunes said...

physics really is interesting and confusing all at the same time. it seems like a lot of guessing and conjecture if you can't really test a lot of it

Aaron M. Gipson said...

I am reading the paper you linked to now, and this is really fascinating stuff! So what would YOU postulate as the contents of the galactic core? And could dark matter potentially be native to only this galaxy? I am somewhat of a novice as I focused more on Biology, so flame me gently if that was a dumb question.

Astronomy Pirate said...

The very center of the galaxy is a super massive black hole. Around that you have a dense region of stars and gas. Gravitational interactions from all the stars pretty much prevents any possible plants from being in a stable orbit for to long. So it is possible to have a lot of planets flying around in that region.

Dark matter is native to the entire universe, we see it in structures around other galaxies, it is what causes the gravitational lens effect. The problem I would have is that the kind of dark matter these astronomers would be looking for with these proposed planets exists very rarely inside of galaxies. This is the stuff that is usually found in the halo around a galaxy where there aren't any stars or planets.

Though, it could be possible that dark matter itself at that cold temperature of intergalactic space might form dark stars and dark planets with their own dark life. It is a kind of matter that we don't understand structurally to well. We are slowly building up an understand of how it might organize itself. We've only detected the small bits of it.

Aaron M. Gipson said...

Dude, you're brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Not only do you KNOW this material, but you also know how to present it to a layman in a way that isn't talking over their heads. That's why this is one of my absolute favorite blogs....

Astronomy Pirate said...

Thanks for the kind words Aaron, I might take a couple days off and an acceptable template and work on a banner however. But there is no shortage of astronomical topics for me to cover. Also, this blog is pretty much on my resume now.

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